Everyone knows how important it is to stretch, especially if you exercise regularly.
Having stretching as a part of your routine can help to prevent injuries, help to prepare the body for exercise and it helps after exercise to prevent muscle stiffness.
There are 2 types of stretching - Static stretching and dynamic stretching, and each of these has a time and a place to be done.
What are the benefits of stretching in general?
Improves flexibility and your range of motion.
Can help reduce stress and promote relaxation.
Can improve your posture, especially if you’re at a desk for most of the day.
Helps to prepare your body for your exercise/training session (dynamic stretching only).
Reduces your chances of getting sports injuries.
Can decrease the amount of lactic acid in your muscles (lactic acid causes the delayed muscle soreness after exercise also known as DOMS.
What is static stretching?
Static stretching is basically any stretch where you stretch your muscle as far as it can go and hold it for a few seconds (usually between 15 and 60 seconds). This should not be performed with any bouncing motions.
Examples of static stretching:
Touching your toes and holding the stretch for 15-60 seconds.
Side lunge holding stretches.
Standing quads stretches (holding your foot to the back and stretching the front of your thigh).
Holding your one arm across your chest with the other arm and holding the stretch.
When should you do static stretching?
We’ve seen many people at parkrun doing a whole lot of static stretches a few minutes before the run starts, and we've also heard many clients with various injuries telling us how they religiously stretch before their training sessions, with most of the stretches also being only static stretches.
This type of stretching is great for improving your flexibility and range of motion (ROM), BUT it’s generally not recommended before exercise.
Doing static stretches before exercising has been shown to decrease your speed, strength, jumping height and therefore negatively impact your performance. These effects on your performance can even last for a few hours.
Not only can it negatively impact your performance, it has the possibility of resulting in injury.
So we repeat, static stretching is not your friend before doing exercise, especially if it’s strength and sprinting exercises.
Save this type of stretching for after your workouts to help prevent stiffness and injuries and to loosen up nicely.
Static stretching is also great at the end of the day to help reduce stress and tension as it helps to promote relaxation.
What is dynamic stretching?
Dynamic stretching is when your joint moves through it’s full active range of motion in a controlled way. It can also be a version of whatever sporting activity you're about to do. It’s important not to force the movement into an increased range because this could cause injury.
Examples of dynamic stretching:
Arm swings backwards and forwards (targets the shoulders).
Walking lunges (no weight added).
Hurdle steps backwards and forwards.
Walk outs to high-plank and back up.
When should you do dynamic stretching?
This type of stretching is what you should be doing during a warm-up before any kind of exercise or physical activity as it can help to improve your power, jump height or length and your speed.
Dynamic stretching before exercise helps to prepare your muscles for the activity or sports you’re about to do.
It's also great to do in the morning after waking up as it’s often more gentle on your muscles than static stretching, and it can help to wake you up and get you started for your day.
What is the difference?
So basically, the difference between these 2 types of stretches is that static stretching is holding a still stretch for 15-60 seconds at the maximum length your muscle can go, and dynamic stretching is more of an active activity where you’re moving your limb through it’s active range of motion.
Both of these types of stretching are important and should feature in your training/exercise, with dynamic stretching being part of your warm up, and static stretching being in your cool down.
Why is it important to stretch?
Many clients come in with various overuse injuries and say that stretching is not part of their exercise routine. Many of them also don’t believe that it could have affected their chances of getting the injury.
Without stretching, some muscles become tighter and shorter.
Whilst strengthening will actually help you become less tight, a lack of stretching can put you at risk for developing overuse injuries, especially related to sustained postures. It can also make the activity that you’re doing more challenging because your muscles lack the ability to achieve the range you need. This can lead to muscle strains and tears.
Recovering after training/exercise sessions will also be harder because of the lactic acid build up causing soreness and stiffness. Stretching helps to prevent this.
Once these clients have received a stretching routine along with their physiotherapy exercises, not only do they get less injuries, but their performance also tends to increase!
Additionally, even if you haven’t had any injuries, it’s still vital to incorporate both static and dynamic stretching into your exercise routine as it helps to prevent injuries from happening.
Stretching will also keep you mobile and make movement easier as you age.
How can you incorporate stretching into your daily life?
Dynamic stretches in the morning and before exercise.
Static stretches at the end of the day and after exercise.
Do a combination of dynamic stretches followed by static stretches on your rest days.
Include family and friends to make it more enjoyable.
Set reminders on your phone, that way there’s no excuses.
If you are a sports coach, ensure that you incorporate stretching into the training programme.
What can physiotherapy help you with stretching?
As physiotherapists we can help you by creating a programme containing both static and dynamic stretches that are specifically tailored to your sporting/activity needs.
We can also identify which muscles are tight and give you stretches to help target those areas to prevent injury and optimise your performance.